Saturday, January 29, 2011
#44: The Public Enemy
Released in 1931, The Public Enemy is a story set in the years of Prohibition about the underworld control of breweries in an American city. The film begins in 1917 and introduces us to Tom Powers (James Cagney) and Matt Doyle (Edward Woods)- two friends who scrape and scrounge the street to earn their daily bread. As the story moves to 1919, Tom is shown as the deviant teenager who would rather steal than go to school unlike his upright brother Mike (Donald Cook).
Tom's rash and irreverent ways soon connect him to Nathan Nails (Leslie Fenton)- an underworld gangster who's supplying beer to the city's drinking holes. Tom and Matt under the instruction of Nathan do not mind using violence to get their kegs in the pubs and this soon does wonders to their finances overnight. Mike, on the other hand learns of Tom's illegal ways but doesn't know how to keep him abeyance. The movie is the story of what eventually happens to the 3 main characters of Mike, Matt and Tom.
James Cagney is fanatastically irreprisible. As the eccentric, vengeful and the dominant Tom, James Cagney delivers a knockout performance. Even as other characters pull in their weight, it is James' portrayal of Tom that excites you most. The movie has a fairly predictable ending but way back in 1931, it would've surely set the pulses racing. Back then, the movie was also considered controversial because of it's violent overtones but now in 2011, one could clearly see where some of the later crime movies drew their inspiration from. If you're into Bollywood, you won't miss the similarity to a movie in which a mother is torn between the love of her two sons- one who's a cop and other who's a gangster.
All in all, The Public Enemy is a tight crime flick. It's relevance to it's day and age is significant as the opening credits speak of the 'author's ambition to showcase the happenings in a certain strata of American society.'. Compared to the heavy weaponry showcased in crime movies nowadays, The Public Enemy is minimalistically brilliant. It goes about it's business without any fuss whatsoever and with it's brisk pace you won't feel disconnected to the movie for a moment. And at 84 minutes, it's a steal of a watch !